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MARXIST   HISTORY

it even at the moment when they imagine themselves
most free, most masterly in their action upon it. Men
make history, it is true, they do not merely sit and
suffer it; but there is a sense in which they are to some
degree products of history in the first place—not only
they themselves, but the situations they have to face,
the problems they have to meet, the world in which they
live, are the accumulated product of centuries of the
past. So we can say that there is an historical process
which, though not self-existing and self-acting, operates
at jjny given moment, conditioning men and yet per-
petually conditioned by them. Human beings are the
agents of that process; the process only goes on because
human beings have brains and vitality; but the process,
working on the stuff of human nature, helps to shape
men before men shape it, and we are all victims as well
as agents of the historical process.

Now the technical historian, in those moments when
he is not merely describing but is trying to explain the
past, studies human action precisely in this latter aspect^
that is to say as " conditioned " action* He does not
first study men as sovereign shapers of their own
personalities and lives—acting in the free air—but as
creatures who themselves are shaped by the history that
has happened before, creatures who therefore are subject
to necessity. The moralist studies human conduct from
. a different point of view altogether. The moralist is'
concerned with secret motives, with the question of
final responsibility; he pretends to judge Charles I in
his aspect as a free agent, who might and ought to have
acted differently—so he needs an absolute knowledge o£

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